Even paired with a Big Gulp, 7:11 start tough to swallow

October 13, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

There is a special bond between me and my 7-Eleven store. The owner likes to talk Ravens, and I like those little roll-up things they sell off the grill, which creates this totally symbiotic relationship in which we both are fed something we enjoy, but have legitimate questions about what we're really being asked to swallow.

I don't bring this up because I suddenly decided to plug a convenience store on a light sports day. I also like Wawa, which has the advantage of not selling gas for Hugo Chavez, and Royal Farms, which once sold me a winning Pick 3 ticket. I brought it up because I just read that 7-Eleven has made a sponsorship deal with the Chicago White Sox that will change the starting times for regular-season night games at U.S. Cellular Field next year from 7:07 to 7:11.

I wonder if the umpires are going to be required to yell "Oh, thank heaven. ... Play Ball!" - but you get the idea. The public address announcer and, I suppose, the local radio broadcasters are going to remind you every night that it's 7:11 and probably mention the latest special at the 150-or-so Chicagoland 7-Eleven stores.

This is where I have a disconnect with certain forms of advertising. It's not like the people in the stadium are suddenly going to jump up during Paul Konerko's first at-bat and rush out of the ballpark looking for a Go-Go Taquito, and I can't believe that the fans listening to the game in their cars are suddenly going to cross three lanes of traffic to get a 40-ounce cup of coffee. Everyone knows where his local convenience store is located and that it's where you go at 3 a.m. to pay double when you need NyQuil.

Personally, I have no problem with this. I once went into a 7-Eleven in the wee hours of the morning desperately looking for cold medication and, when I got to the counter, was a little shocked at the price.

"I can get this at Safeway for three bucks less," I told the cashier.

"Why don't you?" she replied.

"Safeway's not open," I said.

She then explained to me the nature of cause-and-effect relationships and the basic economic principle of supply and demand, which made such perfect sense that I suddenly had this strange urge to go to a White Sox game. It's all starting to come together.

Still, the idea that Major League Baseball would allow this type of commercial manipulation of something as basic as the starting time of games is a bit troubling to those of us who didn't rush out to reserve a coffin or cremation urn when MLB started licensing those items earlier this year, but I'm clearly conflicted.

Part of me feels that the commercialization of big-time sports has gone too far and another part misses the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl, so go figure.

I maintain a small kernel of grudging respect for Orioles owner Peter Angelos, because he has never given in to the temptation to sell naming rights to Oriole Park, but I don't really have a problem with the fact that three major league stadiums are named after beer companies.

Baseball and unabashed commercialism have gone hand in hand since the late 19th century, when the practice of placing advertisements on outfield fences and ballpark facades helped grow a fledgling professional sport into the national pastime. There is a huge Coca-Cola bottle overlooking left field at SBC Park in San Francisco. The Sun advertises itself atop the scoreboard at Oriole Park, where its "H" and "E" flash to signify hits and errors. Got no problem with that.

The White Sox changing the nightly starting time to reflect the name of a chain of convenience stores might be another story, but it would be hard for MLB to challenge that marketing decision after years of starting postseason games at odd times to accommodate television and its sponsors.

In a world of $15 million players, maybe baseball can be forgiven for trying to squeeze every commercial penny out of its product on both a local and national level, but the idea of putting the nightly starting time up for sale to the highest bidder still strikes me as a bit unseemly.

Too bad it's not a national campaign, or 7-Eleven could enlist Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez as a spokesman. That might not sell a lot of Slurpees in New York after his 1-for-14 performance in the playoffs, but it would give the term "Big Gulp" a whole new meaning.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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